Charles Robert Maturin, Melmoth the Wanderer (1820)
Chap 1
Chap 2
Chap 3
Chap 4
Chap 5
Chap 6
Chap 7
Chap 8
Chap 9
Chap 10
Chap 11
Chap 12
Chap 13
Chap 14
Chap 15
Chap 16
Chap 17
Chap 18
Chap 19
Chap 20
Chap 21
Chap 22
Chap 23
Chap 24
Chap 25
Chap 26
Chap 27
Chap 28
Chap 29
Chap 30
Chap 31
Chap 32
Chap 33
Chap 34
Chap 35
Chap 36
Chap 37
Chap 38
Chap 39

CHAPTER XXI

He saw the eternal fire that keeps,
In the unfathomable deeps,
Its power for ever, and made a sign
To the morning prince divine;
Who came across the sulphurous flood,
Obedient to the master-call,
And in angel-beauty stood,
High on his star-lit pedestal.

“In this part of the manuscript, which I read in the vault of Adonijah the Jew,” said Monçada, continuing his narrative, “there were several pages destroyed, and the contents of many following wholly obliterated—nor could Adonijah supply the deficiency. From the next pages that were legible, it appeared that Isidora imprudently continued to permit her mysterious visitor to frequent the garden at night, and to converse with him from the casement, though unable to prevail on him to declare himself to her family, and perhaps conscious that his declaration would not be too favourably received. Such, at least, appeared to be the meaning of the next lines I could decypher.

 “She had renewed, in these nightly conferences, her former visionary existence. Her whole day was but a long thought of the hour at which she expected to see him. In the day-time she was silent, pensive, abstracted, feeding on thought—with the evening her spirits perceptibly though softly rose, like those of one who has a secret and incommunicable store of delight; and her mind became like that flower that unfolds its leaves, and diffuses its odours, only on the approach of night.

 “The season favoured this fatal delusion. It was that rage of summer when we begin to respire only towards evening, and the balmy and brilliant night is our day. The day itself is passed in a languid and feverish doze. At night alone she existed,—at her moon-lit casement alone she breathed freely; and never did the moonlight fall on a lovelier form, or gild a more angelic brow, or gleam on eyes that returned more pure and congenial rays. The mutual and friendly light seemed like the correspondence of spirits who glided on the alternate beams, and, passing from the glow of the planet to the glory of a mortal eye, felt that to reside in either was heaven.

* * * *

* * * *

“She lingered at that casement till she imagined that the clipped and artificially straitened treillage of the garden was the luxuriant and undulating foliage of the trees of her paradise isle—that the flowers had the same odour as that of the untrained and spontaneous roses that once showered their leaves under her naked feet—that the birds sung to her as they had once done when the vesper-hymn of her pure heart ascended along with their closing notes, and formed the holiest and most acceptable anthem that perhaps ever wooed the evening-breeze to waft it to heaven.

 “This delusion would soon cease. The stiff and stern monotony of the parterre, where even the productions of nature held their place as if under the constraint of duty, forced the conviction of its unnatural regularity on her eye and soul, and she turned to heaven for relief. Who does not, even in the first sweet agony of passion? Then we tell that tale to heaven which we would not trust to the ear of mortal—and in the withering hour that must come to all whose love is only mortal, we again call on that heaven which we have intrusted with our secret, to send us back one bright messenger of consolation on those thousand rays that its bright, and cold, and passionless orbs, are for ever pouring on the earth as if in mockery. We ask, but is the petition heard or answered? We weep, but do not we feel that those tears are like rain falling on the sea? Mare infructuosum. No matter. Revelation assures us there is a period coming, when all petitions suited to our state shall be granted, and when “tears shall be wiped from all eyes.” In revelation, then, let us trust—in any thing but our own hearts. But Isidora had not yet learned that theology of the skies, whose text is, “Let us go into the house of mourning.” To her still the night was day, and her sun was the “moon walking in its brightness.” When she beheld it, the recollections of the isle rushed on her heart like a flood; and a figure soon appeared to recal and to realize them.

 “That figure appeared to her every night without disturbance or interruption; and though her knowledge of the severe restraint and regularity of the household caused her some surprise at the facility with which Melmoth apparently defied both, and visited the garden every night, yet such was the influence of her former dream-like and romantic existence, that his continued presence, under circumstances so extraordinary, never drew from her a question with regard to the means by which he was enabled to surmount difficulties insurmountable to all others.

 “There were, indeed, two extraordinary circumstances attendant on these meetings. Though seeing each other again in Spain, after an interval of three years elapsing since they had parted on the shores of an isle in the Indian sea, neither had ever inquired what circumstances could have led to a meeting so unexpected and extraordinary. On Isidora’s part this incurious feeling was easily accounted for. Her former existence had been one of such a fabulous and fantastic character, that the improbable had become familiar to her,—and the familiar only, improbable. Wonders were her natural element; and she felt, perhaps, less surprised at seeing Melmoth in Spain, than when she first beheld him treading the sands of her lonely island. With Melmoth the cause was different, though the effect was the same. His destiny forbid alike curiosity or surprise. The world could show him no greater marvel than his own existence; and the facility with which he himself passed from region to region, mingling with, yet distinct from all his species, like a wearied and uninterested spectator rambling through the various seats of some vast theatre, where he knows none of the audience, would have prevented his feeling astonishment, had he encountered Isidora on the summit of the Andes.

 “During a month, through the course of which she had tacitly permitted these nightly visits beneath her casement—(at a distance which indeed might have defied Spanish jealousy itself to devise matter of suspicion out of,—the balcony of her window being nearly fourteen feet above the level of the garden, where Melmoth stood)—during this month, Isidora rapidly, but imperceptibly, graduated through those stages of feeling which all who love have alike experienced, whether the stream of passion be smooth or obstructed. In the first, she was full of anxiety to speak and to listen, to hear and to be heard. She had all the wonders of her new existence to relate; and perhaps that indefinite and unselfish hope of magnifying herself in the eyes of him she loved, which induces us in our first encounter to display all the eloquence, all the powers, all the attractions we possess, not with the pride of a competitor, but with the humiliation of a victim. The conquered city displays all its wealth in hopes of propitiating the conqueror. It decorates him with all its spoils, and feels prouder to behold him arrayed in them, than when she wore them in triumph herself. That is the first bright hour of excitement, of trembling, but hopeful and felicitous anxiety. Then we think we never can display enough of talent, of imagination, of all that can interest, of all that can dazzle. We pride ourselves in the homage we receive from society, from the hope of sacrificing that homage to our beloved—we feel a pure and almost spiritualized delight in our own praises, from imagining they render us more worthy of meriting his, from whom we have received the grace of love to deserve them—we glorify ourselves, that we may be enabled to render back the glory to him from whom we received it, and for whom we have kept it in trust, only to tender it back with that rich and accumulated interest of the heart, of which we would pay the uttermost farthing, if the payment exacted the last vibration of its fibres,—the last drop of its blood. No saint who ever viewed a miracle performed by himself with a holy and self-annihilating abstraction from seity, has perhaps felt a purer sentiment of perfect devotedness, than the female who, in her first hours of love, offers, at the feet of her worshipped one, the brilliant wreath of music, painting, and eloquence,—and only hopes, with an unuttered sigh, that the rose of love will not be unnoticed in the garland.

 “Oh! how delicious it is to such a being (and such was Isidora) to touch her harp amid crowds, and watch, when the noisy and tasteless bravoes have ceased, for the heart-drawn sigh of the one, to whom alone her soul, not her fingers, have played,—and whose single sigh is heard, and heard alone, amid the plaudits of thousands! Yet how delicious to her to whisper to herself, “I heard his sigh, but he has heard the applause!”

 “And when she glides through the dance, and in touching, with easy and accustomed grace, the hands of many, she feels there is but one hand whose touch she can recognize; and, waiting for its thrilling and life-like vibration, moves on like a statue, cold and graceful, till the Pygmalion-touch warms her into woman, and the marble melts into flesh under the hands of the resistless moulder. And her movements betray, at that moment, the unwonted and half-unconscious impulses of that fair image to which love had given life, and who luxuriated in the vivid and newly-tried enjoyment of that animation which the passion of her lover had breathed into her frame. And when the splendid portfolio is displayed, or the richly-wrought tapestry expanded by outstretched arms, and cavaliers gaze, and ladies envy, and every eye is busy in examination, and every tongue loud in praise, just in the inverted proportion of the ability of the one to scrutinize with accuracy, and the other to applaud with taste—then to throw round the secret silent glance, that searches for that eye whose light alone, to her intoxicated gaze, contains all judgment, all taste, all feeling—for that lip whose very censure would be dearer than the applause of a world!—To hear, with soft and submissive tranquillity, censure and remark, praise and comment, but to turn for ever the appealing look to one who alone can understand, and whose swiftly-answering glance can alone reward it!—This—this had been Isidora’s hope. Even in the isle where he first saw her in the infancy of her intellect, she had felt the consciousness of superior powers, which were then her solace, not her pride. Her value for herself rose with her devotion to him. Her passion became her pride: and the enlarged resources of her mind, (for Christianity under its most corrupt form enlarges every mind), made her at first believe, that to behold her admired as she was for her loveliness, her talents, and her wealth, would compel this proudest and most eccentric of beings to prostrate himself before her, or at least to acknowledge the power of those acquirements which she had so painfully been arrived at the knowledge of, since her involuntary introduction into European society.

 “This had been her hope during the earlier period of his visits; but innocent and flattering to its object as it was, she was disappointed. To Melmoth “nothing was new under the sun.” Talent was to him a burden. He knew more than man could tell him, or woman either. Accomplishments were a bauble—the rattle teazed his ear, and he flung it away. Beauty was a flower he looked on only to scorn, and touched only to wither. Wealth and distinction he appreciated as they deserved, but not with the placid disdain of the philosopher, or the holy abstraction of the saint, but with that “fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation,” to which he believed their possessors irreversibly devoted, and to the infliction of which he looked forward with perhaps a feeling like that of those executioners who, at the command of Mithridates, poured the melted ore of his golden chains down the throat of the Roman ambassador.

 “With such feelings, and others that cannot be told, Melmoth experienced an indescribable relief from the eternal fire that was already kindled within him, in the perfect and unsullied freshness of what may be called the untrodden verdure of Immalee’s heart,—for she was Immalee still to him. She was the Oasis of his desert—the fountain at which he drank, and forgot his passage over the burning sands—and the burning sands to which his passage must conduct him. He sat under the shade of the gourd, and forgot the worm was working at its root;—perhaps the undying worm that gnawed, and coiled, and festered in his own heart, might have made him forget the corrosions of that he himself had sown in hers.

 “Isidora, before the second week of their interview, had lowered her pretensions. She had given up the hope to interest or to dazzle—that hope which is twin-born with love in the purest female heart. She now had concentrated all her hopes, and all her heart, no longer in the ambition to be beloved, but in the sole wish to love. She no longer alluded to the enlargement of her faculties, the acquisition of new powers, and the expansion and cultivation of her taste. She ceased to speak—she sought only to listen—then her wish subsided into that quiet listening for his form alone, which seemed to transfer the office of hearing into the eyes, or rather, to identify both. She saw him long before he appeared,—and heard him though he did not speak. They have been in each other’s presence for the short hours of a Spanish summer’s night,—Isidora’s eyes alternately fixed on the sun-like moon, and on her mysterious lover,—while he, without uttering a word, leaned against the pillars of her balcony, or the trunk of the giant myrtle-tree, which cast the shade he loved, even by night, over his portentous expression,—and they never uttered a word to each other, till the waving of Isidora’s hand, as the dawn appeared, was the tacit signal for their parting.

 “This is the marked graduation of profound feeling. Language is no longer necessary to those whose beating hearts converse audibly—whose eyes, even by moonlight, are more intelligible to each other’s stolen and shadowed glances, than the broad converse of face to face in the brightest sunshine—to whom, in the exquisite inversion of earthly feeling and habit, darkness is light, and silence eloquence.

 “At their last interviews, Isidora sometimes spoke,—but it was only to remind her lover, in a soft and chastened tone, of a promise which it seems he had at one time made of disclosing himself to her parents, and demanding her at their hands. Something she murmured also of her declining health—her exhausted spirits—her breaking heart—the long delay—the hope deferred—the mysterious meeting; and while she spoke she wept, but hid her tears from him.

 “It is thus, Oh God! we are doomed (and justly doomed when we fix our hearts on any thing below thee) to feel those hearts repelled like the dove who hovered over the shoreless ocean, and found not a spot where her foot might rest,—not a green leaf to bring back in her beak. Oh that the ark of mercy may open to such souls, and receive them from that stormy world of deluge and of wrath, with which they are unable to contend, and where they can find no resting-place!

 “Isidora now had arrived at the last stage of that painful pilgrimage through which she had been led by a stern and reluctant guide.

 “In its first, with the innocent and venial art of woman, she had tried to interest him by the display of her new acquirements, without the consciousness that they were not new to him. The harmony of civilized society, of which she was at once weary and proud, was discord to his ear. He had examined all the strings that formed this curious but ill-constructed instrument, and found them all false.

 “In the second, she was satisfied with merely beholding him. His presence formed the atmosphere of her existence—in it alone she breathed. She said to herself, as evening approached, “I shall see him!”—and the burden of life rolled from her heart as she internally uttered the words. The constraint, the gloom, the monotony of her existence, vanished like clouds at the sun, or rather like those clouds assuming such gorgeous and resplendent colours, that they seemed to have been painted by the finger of happiness itself. The brilliant hue diffused itself over every object of her eye and heart. Her mother appeared no longer a cold and gloomy bigot, and even her brother seemed kind. There was not a tree in the garden whose foliage was not illumined as by the light of a setting sun; and the breeze spoke to her in a voice whose melody was borrowed from her own heart.

 “When at length she saw him,—when she said to herself, He is there,—she felt as if all the felicity of earth was comprised in that single sensation,—at least she felt that all her own was. She no longer indulged the wish to attract or to subdue him—absorbed in his existence, she forgot her own—immersed in the consciousness of her own felicity, she lost the wish, or rather the pride, of BESTOWING it. In the impassioned revelry of the heart, she flung the pearl of existence into the draught in which she pledged her lover, and saw it melt away without a sigh. But now she was beginning to feel, that for this intensity of feeling, this profound devotedness, she was entitled at least to an honourable acknowledgement on the part of her lover; and that the mysterious delay in which her existence was wasted, might make that acknowledgement come perhaps too late. She expressed this to him; but to these appeals, (not the least affecting of which had no language but that of looks), he replied only by a profound but uneasy silence, or by a levity whose wild and frightful sallies had something in them still more alarming.

 “At times he appeared even to insult the heart over which he had triumphed, and to affect to doubt his conquest with the air of one who is revelling in its certainty, and who mocks the captive by asking “if it is really in chains?”

 “You do not love?” he would say;—“you cannot love me at least. Love, in your happy Christian country, must be the result of cultivated taste,—of harmonized habits,—of a felicitous congeniality of pursuits,—of thought, and hopes, and feelings, that, in the sublime language of the Jewish poet, (prophet I meant), “tell and certify to each other; and though they have neither speech or language, a voice is heard among them.” You cannot love a being repulsive in his appearance,—eccentric in his habits,—wild and unsearchable in his feelings,—and inaccessible in the settled purpose of his fearful and fearless existence. No,” he added in a melancholy and decided tone of voice, “you cannot love me under the circumstances of your new existence. Once—but that is past.—You are now a baptized daughter of the Catholic church,—the member of a civilized community,—the child of a family that knows not the stranger. What, then, is there between me and thee, Isidora, or, as your Fra Jose would phrase it, (if he knows so much Greek), greek letters”—“I loved you,” answered the Spanish maiden, speaking in the same pure, firm, and tender voice in which she had spoken when she first was the sole goddess of her fairy and flowery isle; “I loved you before I was a Christian. They have changed my creed—but they never can change my heart. I love you still—I will be yours for ever! On the shore of the desolate isle,—from the grated window of my Christian prison,—I utter the same sounds. What can woman, what can man, in all the boasted superiority of his character and feeling, (which I have learned only since I became a Christian, or an European), do more? You but insult me when you appear to doubt that feeling, which you may wish to have analysed, because you do not experience or cannot comprehend it. Tell me, then, what is it to love? I defy all your eloquence, all your sophistry, to answer the question as truly as I can. If you would wish to know what is love, inquire not at the tongue of man, but at the heart of woman.”—“What is love?” said Melmoth; “is that the question?”—“You doubt that I love,” said Isidora—“tell me, then, what is love?”—“You have imposed on me a task,” said Melmoth smiling, but not in mirth, “so congenial to my feelings and habits of thought, that the execution will doubtless be inimitable. To love, beautiful Isidora, is to live in a world of the heart’s own creation—all whose forms and colours are as brilliant as they are deceptive and unreal. To those who love there is neither day or night, summer or winter, society or solitude. They have but two eras in their delicious but visionary existence,—and those are thus marked in the heart’s calendar—presenceabsence. These are the substitutes for all the distinctions of nature and society. The world to them contains but one individual,—and that individual is to them the world as well as its single inmate. The atmosphere of his presence is the only air they can breathe in,—and the light of his eye the only sun of their creation, in whose rays they bask and live.”—“Then I love,” said Isidora internally. “To love,” pursued Melmoth, “is to live in an existence of perpetual contradictions—to feel that absence is insupportable, and yet be doomed to experience the presence of the object as almost equally so—to be full of ten thousand thoughts while he is absent, the confession of which we dream will render our next meeting delicious, yet when the hour of meeting arrives, to feel ourselves, by a timidity alike oppressive and unaccountable, robbed of the power of expressing one—to be eloquent in his absence, and dumb in his presence—to watch for the hour of his return as for the dawn of a new existence, yet when it arrives, to feel all those powers suspended which we imagined it would restore to energy—to be the statue that meets the sun, but without the music his presence should draw from it—to watch for the light of his looks, as a traveller in the deserts looks for the rising of the sun; and when it bursts on our awakened world, to sink fainting under its overwhelming and intolerable glory, and almost wish it were night again—this is love!”—“Then I believe I love,” said Isidora half audibly. “To feel,” added Melmoth with increasing energy, “that our existence is so absorbed in his, that we have lost all consciousness but of his presence—all sympathy but of his enjoyments—all sense of suffering but when he suffers—to be only because he is—and to have no other use of being but to devote it to him, while our humiliation increases in proportion to our devotedness; and the lower you bow before your idol, the prostrations seem less and less worthy of being the expression of your devotion,—till you are only his, when you are not yourself—To feel that to the sacrifice of yourself, all other sacrifices are inferior; and in it, therefore, all other sacrifices must be included. That she who loves, must remember no longer her individual existence, her natural existence—that she must consider parents, country, nature, society, religion itself—(you tremble, Immalee—Isidora I would say)—only as grains of incense flung on the altar of the heart, to burn and exhale their sacrificed odours there.”—“Then I do love,” said Isidora; and she wept and trembled indeed at this terrible confession—“for I have forgot the ties they told me were natural,—the country of which they said I was a native. I will renounce, if it must be so, parents,—country,—the habits which I have acquired,—the thoughts which I have learnt,—the religion which I—Oh no! my God! my Saviour!” she exclaimed, darting from the casement, and clinging to the crucifix—“No! I will never renounce you!—I will never renounce you!—you will not forsake me in the hour of death!—you will not desert me in the moment of trial!—you will not forsake me at this moment!”

 “By the wax-lights that burned in her apartment, Melmoth could see her prostrate before the sacred image. He could see that devotion of the heart which made it throb almost visibly in the white and palpitating bosom—the clasped hands that seemed imploring aid against that rebellious heart, whose beatings they vainly struggled to repress; and then, locked and upraised, asked forgiveness from heaven for their fruitless opposition. He could see the wild but profound devotion with which she clung to the crucifix,—and he shuddered to behold it. He never gazed on that symbol,—his eyes were immediately averted;—yet now he looked long and intently at her as she knelt before it. He seemed to suspend the diabolical instinct that governed his existence, and to view her for the pure pleasure of sight. Her prostrate figure,—her rich robes that floated round her like drapery round an inviolate shrine,—her locks of light streaming over her naked shoulders,—her small white hands locked in agony of prayer,—the purity of expression that seemed to identify the agent with the employment, and made one believe they saw not a suppliant, but the embodied spirit of supplication, and feel, that lips like those had never held communion with aught below heaven.—All this Melmoth beheld; and feeling that in this he could never participate, he turned away his head in stern and bitter agony,—and the moon-beam that met his burning eye saw no tear there.

 “Had he looked a moment longer, he might have beheld a change in the expression of Isidora too flattering to his pride, if not to his heart. He might have marked all that profound and perilous absorption of the soul, when it is determined to penetrate the mysteries of love or of religion, and chuse “whom it will serve”—that pause on the brink of an abyss, in which all its energies, its passions, and its powers, are to be immersed—that pause, while the balance is trembling (and we tremble with it) between God and man.

 “In a few moments, Isidora arose from before the cross. There was more composure, more elevation in her air. There was also that air of decision which an unreserved appeal to the Searcher of hearts never fails to communicate even to the weakest of those he has made.

 “Melmoth, returning to his station beneath the casement, looked on her for some time with a mixture of compassion and wonder—feelings that he hasted to repel, as he eagerly demanded, “What proof are you ready to give of that love I have described—of that which alone deserves the name?”—“Every proof,” answered Isidora firmly, “that the most devoted of the daughters of man can give—my heart and hand,—my resolution to be yours amid mystery and grief,—to follow you in exile and loneliness (if it must be) through the world!”

 “As she spoke, there was a light in her eye,—a glow on her brow,—an expansive and irradiated sublimity around her figure,—that made it appear like the rare and glorious vision of the personified union of passion and purity,—as if those eternal rivals had agreed to reconcile their claims, to meet on the confines of their respective dominions, and had selected the form of Isidora as the temple in which their league might be hallowed, and their union consummated—and never were the opposite divinities so deliciously lodged. They forgot their ancient feuds, and agreed to dwell there for ever.

 “There was a grandeur, too, about her slender form, that seemed to announce that pride of purity,—that confidence in external weakness, and internal energy,—that conquest without armour,—that victory over the victor, which makes the latter blush at his triumph, and compels him to bow to the standard of the besieged fortress at the moment of its surrender. She stood like a woman devoted, but not humiliated by her devotion—uniting tenderness with magnanimity—willing to sacrifice every thing to her lover, but that which must lessen the value of the sacrifice in his eyes—willing to be the victim, but feeling worthy to be the priestess.

 “Melmoth gazed on her as she stood. One generous, one human feeling, throbbed in his veins, and thrilled in his heart. He saw her in her beauty,—her devotedness,—her pure and perfect innocence,—her sole feeling for one who could not, by the fearful power of his unnatural existence, feel for mortal being. He turned aside, and did not weep; or if he did, wiped away his tears, as a fiend might do, with his burning talons, when he sees a new victim arrive for torture; and, repenting of his repentance, rends away the blot of compunction, and arms himself for his task of renewed infliction.

 “Well, then, Isidora, you will give me no proof of your love? Is that what I must understand?”—“Demand,” answered the innocent and high-souled Isidora, “any proof that woman ought to give—more is not in human power—less would render the proof of no value!”

 “Such was the impression that these words made on Melmoth, whose heart, however, plunged in unutterable crimes, had never been polluted by sensuality, that he started from the spot where he stood,—gazed on her for a moment,—and then exclaimed, “Well! you have given me proofs of love unquestionable! It remains for me to give you a proof of that love which I have described—of that love which only you could inspire—of that love which, under happier circumstances, I might—But no matter—it is not my business to analyse the feeling, but to give the proof.” He extended his arm toward the casement at which she stood.—“Would you then consent to unite your destiny with mine? Would you indeed be mine amid mystery and sorrow? Would you follow me from land to sea, and from sea to land,—a restless, homeless, devoted being,—with the brand on your brow, and the curse on your name? Would you indeed be mine?—my own—my only Immalee?”—“I would—I will!”—“Then,” answered Melmoth, “on this spot receive the proof of my eternal gratitude. On this spot I renounce your sight!—I disannul your engagement!—I fly from you for ever!” And as he spoke, he disappeared.”

CHAPTER XXII

I’ll not wed Paris,—Romeo is my husband.
                                   SHAKESPEARE

“Isidora was so accustomed to the wild exclamations and (to her) unintelligible allusions of her mysterious lover, that she felt no unwonted alarm at his singular language, and abrupt departure. There was nothing in either more menacing or formidable than she had often witnessed; and she recollected, that after these paroxysms, he often re-appeared in a mood comparatively tranquil. She felt sustained, therefore, by this reflection,—and perhaps by that mysterious conviction impressed on the hearts of those who love profoundly—that passion must always be united with suffering; and she seemed to hear, with a kind of melancholy submission to the fatality of love, that her lot was to suffer from lips that were sure to verify the oracle. The disappearance, therefore, of Melmoth, gave her less surprise than a summons from her mother a few hours after, which was delivered in these words: “Madonna Isidora, your lady-mother desires your presence in the tapestried chamber—having received intelligence by a certain express, which she deems fitting you should be acquainted withal.”

 “Isidora had been in some degree prepared for extraordinary intelligence by an extraordinary bustle in this grave and quiet household. She had heard steps passing, and voices resounding, but

“She wist not what they were,”

and thought not of what they meant. She imagined that her mother might have some communication to make about some intricate point of conscience which Fra Jose had not discussed to her satisfaction, from which she would make an instant transition to the levity visible in the mode in which one attendant damsel arranged her hair, and the suspected sound of a ghitarra under the window of another, and then fly off at a tangent to inquire how the capons were fed, and why the eggs and Muscadine had not been duly prepared for Fra Jose’s supper. Then would she fret about the family clock not chiming synchronically with the bells of the neighbouring church where she performed her devotions. And finally, she fretted about every thing, from the fattening of the “pullen,” and the preparation for the olio, up to the increasing feuds between the Molinists and Jansenists, which had already visited Spain, and the deadly dispute between the Dominican and Franciscan orders, relative to the habit in which it was most effective to salvation for the dying body of the sinner to be wrapped. So between her kitchen and her oratory,—her prayers to the saints, and her scoldings to her servants,—her devotion and her anger,—Donna Clara continued to keep herself and domestics in a perpetual state of interesting occupation and gentle excitement.

 “Something of this Isidora expected on the summons, and she was, therefore, surprised to see Donna Clara seated at her writing desk,—a large and fairly written manuscript of a letter extended before her,—and to hear words thereafter uttered thus: “Daughter, I have sent for you, that you might with me partake of the pleasure these lines should afford both; and that you may do so, I desire you to sit and hear while they are read to you.”

 “Donna Clara, as she uttered these words, was seated in a monstrous high-backed chair, of which she actually seemed a part, so wooden was her figure, so moveless her features, so lacklustre her eyes.

 “Isidora curtsied low, and sat on one of the cushions with which the room was heaped,—while a spectacled duenna, enthroned on another cushion at the right hand of Donna Clara, read, with sundry pauses and some difficulty, the following letter, which Donna Clara had just received from her husband, who had landed, not at Ossuna, [1] but at a real sea-port town in Spain, and was now on his way to join his family.

1 Vide Don Quixote, Vol. II. Smollet’s Translation.

“DONNA CLARA,

 “It is about a year since I received your letter advising me of the recovery of our daughter, whom we believed lost with her nurse on her voyage to India when an infant, to which I would sooner have replied, were I not otherwise hindered by concerns of business.

 “I would have you understand, that I rejoice not so much that I have recovered a daughter, as that heaven hath regained a soul and a subject, as it were, e faucibus Draconis—e profundis Barathri—the which terms Fra Jose will make plain to your weaker comprehension.

 “I trust that, through the ministry of that devout servant of God and the church, she is now become as complete a Catholic in all points necessary, absolute, doubtful, or incomprehensible,—formal, essential, venial, and indispensible, as becomes the daughter of an old Christian such as I (though unworthy of that honour) boast myself to be. Moreover, I expect to find her, as a Spanish maiden should be, equipped and accomplished with all the virtues pertaining to that character, especially those of discretion and reserve. The which qualities, as I have always perceived to reside in you, so I hope you have laboured to transfer to her,—a transfer by which the receiver is enriched, and the giver not impoverished.

 “Finally, as maidens should be rewarded for their chastity and reserve by being joined in wedlock with a worthy husband, so it is the duty of a careful father to provide such a one for his daughter, that she do not pass her marriageable age, and sit in discontent and squalidness at home, as one overlooked of the other sex. My fatherly care, therefore, moving me, I shall bring with me one who is to be her husband, Don Gregorio Montilla, of whose qualifications I have not now leisure to speak, but whom I expect she will receive as becomes the dutiful daughter, and you as the obedient wife, of

FRANCISCO DI ALIAGA.”

“You have heard your father’s letter, daughter,” said Donna Clara, placing herself as in act to speak, “and doubtless sit silent in expectation of hearing from me a rehearsal of the duties pertaining to the state on which you are so soon to enter, and which, I take it, are three; that is to say, obedience, silence, and thriftiness. And first of the first, which, as I conceive, divides itself into thirteen heads,”—“Holy saints!” said the duenna under her breath, “how pale Madonna Isidora grows!”—“First of the first,” continued Donna Clara, clearing her throat, elevating her spectacles with one hand, and fixing three demonstrative fingers of the other on a huge clasped volume, containing the life of St Francis Xavier, that lay on the desk before her,—“as touching the thirteen heads into which the first divides itself, the eleven first, I take it, are the most profitable—the two last I shall leave you to be instructed in by your husband. First, then,”—Here she was interrupted by a slight noise, which did not, however, draw her attention, till she was startled by a scream from the duenna, who exclaimed, “The Virgin be my protection! Madonna Isidora has fainted!”

 “Donna Clara lowered her spectacles, glanced at the figure of her daughter, who had fallen from her cushion, and lay breathless on the floor, and, after a short pause, replied, “She has fainted. Raise her.—Call for assistance, and apply some cold water, or bear her into the open air. I fear I have lost the mark in the life of this holy saint,” muttered Donna Clara when alone; “this comes of this foolish business of love and marriage. I never loved in my life, thank the saints!—and as to marriage, that is according to the will of God and of our parents.”

 “The unfortunate Isidora was lifted from the floor, conveyed into the open air, whose breath had the same effect on her still elementary existence, that water was said to have on that of the ombre pez, (man-fish), of whom the popular traditions of Barcelona were at that time, and still have been, rife.

 “She recovered; and sending an apology to Donna Clara for her sudden indisposition, intreated her attendants to leave her, as she wished to be alone. Alone!—that is a word to which those who love annex but one idea,—that of being in society with one who is their all. She wished in this (to her) terrible emergency, to ask counsel of him whose image was ever present to her, and whose voice she heard with the mind’s ear distinctly even in absence.

 “The crisis was indeed one calculated to try a female heart; and Isidora’s, with its potency of feeling, opposed to utter destitution of judgment and of experience,—its native habits of resolution and self-direction, and its acquired ones of timidity and diffidence almost to despondency,—became the victim of emotions, whose struggle seemed at first to threaten her reason.

 “Her former independent and instinctive existence revived in her heart at some moments, and suggested to her resolutions wild and desperate, but such as the most timid females have been known, under the pressure of a fearful exigency, to purpose, and even to execute. Then the constraint of her new habits,—the severity of her factitious existence,—and the solemn power of her newly-learned but deeply-felt religion,—made her renounce all thoughts of resistance or opposition, as offences against heaven.

 “Her former feelings, her new duties, beat in terrible conflict against her heart; and, trembling at the isthmus on which she stood, she felt it, under the influence of opposing tides, narrowing every moment under her feet.

 “This was a dreadful day to her. She had sufficient time for reflection, but she had within her the conviction that reflection could be of no use,—that the circumstances in which she was placed, not her own thoughts, must decide for her,—and that, situated as she was, mental power was no match for physical.

 “There is not, perhaps, a more painful exercise of the mind than that of treading, with weary and impatient pace, the entire round of thought, and arriving at the same conclusion for ever; then setting out again with increased speed and diminished strength, and again returning to the very same spot—of sending out all our faculties on a voyage of discovery, and seeing them all return empty, and watch the wrecks as they drift helplessly along, and sink before the eye that hailed their outward expedition with joy and confidence.

 “All that day she thought how it was possible to liberate herself from her situation, while the feeling that liberation was impossible clung to the bottom of her heart; and this sensation of the energies of the soul in all their strength, being in vain opposed to imbecillity and mediocrity, when aided by circumstances, is one productive alike of melancholy and of irritation. We feel, like prisoners in romance, bound by threads to which the power of magic has given the force of adamant.

 “To those whose minds incline them rather to observe, than to sympathize with the varieties of human feeling, it would have been interesting to watch the restless agony of Isidora, contrasted with the cold and serene satisfaction of her mother, who employed the whole of the day in composing, with the assistance of Fra Jose, what Juvenal calls “verbosa et grandis epistola,” in answer to that of her husband; and to conceive how two human beings, apparently of similarly-constructed organs, and destined apparently to sympathize with each other, could draw from the same fountain waters sweet and bitter.

 “On her plea of continued indisposition, Isidora was excused from appearing before her mother during the remainder of the day. The night came on,—the night, which, by concealing the artificial objects and manners which surrounded her, restored to her, in some degree, the consciousness of her former existence, and gave her a sense of independence she never felt by day. The absence of Melmoth increased her anxiety. She began to apprehend that his departure was intended to be final, and her heart sunk at the thought.

 “To the mere reader of romance, it may seem incredible that a female of Isidora’s energy and devotedness should feel anxiety or terror in a situation so common to a heroine. She has only to stand proof against all the importunities and authority of her family, and announce her desperate resolution to share the destiny of a mysterious and unacknowledged lover. All this sounds very plausible and interesting. Romances have been written and read, whose interest arose from the noble and impossible defiance of the heroine to all powers human and superhuman alike. But neither the writers or readers seem ever to have taken into account the thousand petty external causes that operate on human agency with a force, if not more powerful, far more effective than the grand internal motive which makes so grand a figure in romance, and so rare and trivial a one in common life.

 “Isidora would have died for him she loved. At the stake or the scaffold she would have avowed her passion, and triumphed in perishing as its victim. The mind can collect itself for one great effort, but it is exhausted by the eternally-recurring necessity of domestic conflicts,—victories by which she must lose, and defeats by which she might gain the praise of perseverance, and feel such gain was loss. The last single and terrible effort of the Jewish champion, in which he and his enemies perished together, must have been a luxury compared to his blind drudgery in his mill.

 “Before Isidora lay that painful and perpetual struggle of fettered strength with persecuting weakness, which, if the truth were told, would divest half the heroines of romance of the power or wish to contend against the difficulties that beset them. Her mansion was a prison—she had no power (and if she possessed the power, would never have exercised it) of obtaining an unpermitted or unobserved egress from the doors of the house for one moment. Thus her escape was completely barred; and had every door in the house been thrown open, she would have felt like a bird on its first flight from the cage, without a spray that she dared to rest on. Such was her prospect, even if she could effect her escape—at home it was worse.

 “The stern and cold tone of authority in which her father’s letter was written, gave her but little hope that in her father she would find a friend. Then the feeble and yet imperious mediocrity of her mother—the selfish and arrogant temper of Fernan—the powerful influence and incessant documentising of Fra Jose, whose good-nature was no match for his love of authority—the daily domestic persecution—that vinegar that would wear out any rock—the being compelled to listen day after day to the same exhausting repetition of exhortation, chiding, reproach, and menace, or seek refuge in her chamber, to waste the weary hours in loneliness and tears—this strife maintained by one strong indeed in purpose, but feeble in power, against so many all sworn to work their will, and have their way—this perpetual conflict with evils so trivial in the items, but so heavy in the amount, to those who have the debt to pay daily and hourly,—was too much for the resolution of Isidora, and she wept in hopeless despondency, as she felt that already her courage shrunk from the encounter, and knew not what concessions might be extorted from her increasing inability of resistance.

 “Oh!” she cried, clasping her hands in the extremity of her distress, “Oh that he were but here to direct, to counsel me!—that he were here even no longer as my lover, but only as my adviser!”

 “It is said that a certain power is always at hand to facilitate the wishes that the individual forms for his own injury; and so it should seem in the present instance,—for she had scarce uttered these words, when the shadow of Melmoth was seen darkening the garden walk,—and the next moment he was beneath the casement. As she saw him approach, she uttered a cry of mingled joy and fear, which he hushed by making a signal of silence with his hand, and then whispered, “I know it all!”

 “Isidora was silent. She had nothing but her recent distress to communicate,—and of that, it appeared, he was already apprized. She waited, therefore, in mute anxiety for some words of counsel or of comfort. “I know all!” continued Melmoth; “your father has landed in Spain—he brings with him your destined husband. The fixed purpose of your whole family, as obstinate as they are weak, it will be bootless in you to resist; and this day fortnight will see you the bride of Montilla.”—“I will first be the bride of the grave,” said Isidora, with perfect and fearful calmness.

 “At these words, Melmoth advanced and gazed on her more closely. Any thing of intense and terrible resolution,—of feeling or action in extremity,—made harmony with the powerful but disordered chords of his soul. He required her to repeat the words—she did so, with quivering lip, but unfaultering voice. He advanced still nearer to gaze on her as she spoke. It was a beautiful and fearful sight to see her as she stood;—her marble face—her moveless features—her eyes in which burned the fixed and livid light of despair, like a lamp in a sepulchral vault—the lips that half opened, and remaining unclosed, appeared as if the speaker was unconscious of the words that had escaped them, or rather, as if they had burst forth by involuntary and incontroulable impulse;—so she stood, like a statue, at her casement, the moonlight giving her white drapery the appearance of stone, and her wrought-up and determined mind lending the same rigidity to her expression. Melmoth himself felt confounded—appalled he could not feel. He retreated, and then returning, demanded, “Is this your resolution, Isidora?—and have you indeed resolution to”—“To die!” answered Isidora, with the same unaltered accent,—the same calm expression,—and seeming, as she spake, capable of all she expressed; and this union, in the same slight and tender form, of those eternal competitors, energy and fragility, beauty and death, made every human pulse in Melmoth’s frame beat with a throbbing unknown before. “Can you, then,” he said, with averted head, and in a tone that seemed ashamed of its own softness—“Can you, then, die for him you will not live for?”—“I have said I will die sooner than be the bride of Montilla,” answered Isidora. “Of death I know nothing, nor do I know much of life—but I would rather perish, than be the perjured wife of the man I cannot love.”—“And why can you not love him?” said Melmoth, toying with the heart he held in his hand, like a mischievous boy with a bird, around whose leg he has fastened a string.—“Because I can love but one. You were the first human being I ever saw who could teach me language, and who taught me feeling. Your image is for ever before me, present or absent, sleeping or waking. I have seen fairer forms,—I have listened to softer voices,—I might have met gentler hearts,—but the first, the indelible image, is written on mine, and its characters will never be effaced till that heart is a clod of the valley. I loved you not for comeliness,—I loved you not for gay deportment, or fond language, or all that is said to be lovely in the eye of woman,—I loved you because you were my first,—the sole connecting link between the human world and my heart,—the being who brought me acquainted with that wondrous instrument that lay unknown and untouched within and me, whose chords, as long as they vibrate, will disdain to obey any touch but that of their first mover—because your image is mixed in my imagination with all the glories of nature—because your voice, when I heard it first, was something in accordance with the murmur of the ocean, and the music of the stars. And still its tones recal the unimaginable blessedness of those scenes where first I heard it,—and still I listen to it like an exile who hears the music of his native country in a land that is very far off,—because nature and passion, memory and hope, alike cling round your image; and amid the light of my former existence, and the gloom of my present, there is but one form that retains its reality and its power through light and shade. I am like one who has traversed many climates, and looks but to one sun as the light of all, whether bright or obscure. I have loved once—and for ever!” Then, trembling at the words she uttered, she added, with that sweet mixture of maiden pride and purity that redeems while it pledges the hostage of the heart, “The feelings I have entrusted you with may be abused, but never alienated.”—“And these are your real feelings?” said Melmoth, pausing long, and moving his frame like one agitated by deep and uneasy thoughts. “Real!” repeated Isidora, with some transient glow on her cheek—“real! Can I utter any thing but what is real? Can I so soon forget my existence?” Melmoth looked up once more as she spoke—“If such is your resolution,—if such be your feelings indeed,”—“And they are!—they are!” exclaimed Isidora, her tears bursting through the slender fingers, which, after extending towards him, she clasped over her burning eyes. “Then look to the alternative that awaits you!” said Melmoth slowly, bringing out the words with difficulty, and, as it appeared, with some feeling for his victim; “a union with the man who cannot love,—or the perpetual hostility, the wearying, wasting, almost annihilating persecution of your family! Think of days that”—“Oh let me not think!” cried Isidora, wringing her white and slender hands; “tell me—tell me what may be done to escape them!”—“Now, in good troth,” answered Melmoth, knitting his brows with a most cogitative wrinkle, while it was impossible to discover whether his predominant expression was that of irony or profound and sincere feeling—“I know not what resource you have unless you wed me.”—“Wed you!” cried Isidora, retreating from the window—“Wed you!” and she clasped her hands over her pale forehead;—and at this moment, when the hope of her heart, the thread on which her existence was suspended, was within her reach, she trembled to touch it. “Wed you!—but how is that possible?”—“All things are possible to those who love,” said Melmoth, with his sardonic smile, which was hid by the shades of the night. “And you will wed me, then, by the rites of the church of which I am a member?”—“Aye! or of any other!”—“Oh speak not so wildly!—say not aye in that horrible voice! Will you wed me as a Christian maiden should be wed?—Will you love me as a Christian wife should be loved? My former existence was like a dream,—but now I am awake. If I unite my destiny to yours,—if I abandon my family, my country, my”—“If you do, how will you be the loser?—your family harasses and confines you—your country would shout to see you at the stake, for you have some heretical feelings about you, Isidora. And for the rest”—“God!” said the poor victim, clasping her hands, and looking upwards, “God, aid me in this extremity!”—“If I am to wait here only as a witness to your devotions,” said Melmoth with sullen asperity, “my stay will not be long.”—“You cannot leave me, then, to struggle with fear and perplexity alone! How is it possible for me to escape, even if”—“By whatever means I possess of entering this place and retiring unobserved,—by the same you may effect your escape. If you have resolution, the effort will cost you little,—if love,—nothing. Speak, shall I be here at this hour tomorrow night, to conduct you to liberty and”—Safety he would have added, but his voice faultered. “To-morrow night,” said Isidora, after a long pause, and in accents almost inarticulate. She closed the casement as she spoke, and Melmoth slowly departed.”


END OF THIRD VOLUME

 

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